As pet parents, we will do pretty much anything possible to extend the life and health of our beloved animals. We search out the best food; take them on all the walks; and groom them to keep them looking clean and pretty—but dog teeth cleaning sometimes gets overlooked in our crusade for optimal pet health.
Regular dog dental cleaning has many benefits that go far beyond getting rid of bad breath. We weighed in with some experts to answer all of your questions about this important procedure.
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Is Dog Dental Cleaning Really Necessary?
The short answer here is: Absolutely!
Dental cleanings in dogs are essential for maintaining oral health and keeping periodontal disease at bay, says Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at Jules Veterinary Center in Tracy, California, and veterinary consultant at WeLoveDoodles.com.
Oral health and helping your pup keep their teeth into old age aren’t the only reasons dog teeth cleaning is helpful. According to Dr. Courtnye Jackson, DVM, a veterinarian in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the founder of The Pets Digest, regular cleanings can help:
- Prevent tooth decay
- Prevent plaque and tartar buildup
- Prevent heart disease
- Decrease overall inflammation
How Much Does Dog Teeth Cleaning Cost?
The cost of teeth cleaning can vary depending on where you are located and the dog’s size, but a typical cleaning ranges $200-$800, according to Dr. Kong and Dr. Jackson. You can also run into additional costs for anesthesia or tooth extractions, if necessary.
Dr. Jackson says that if a traditional full-service clinic’s dental cleaning prices are beyond your budget, visit a shelter that has an adjacent clinic for lower cost dog dental cleanings.
Another hot tip from Dr. Jackson: Get your dog’s teeth cleaned in February! February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and you may be able to find some deals around that time.
When Should Dogs Get Their First Dental Cleaning?
Your vet will check your dog’s teeth during routine visits to assess the need for cleaning, but Dr. Kong says that most dogs are done with their puppy teething and will benefit from their first dental cleaning at 2-3 years of age.
According to Dr. Jackson, small dogs may need dental cleaning sooner than larger breeds, and dogs who enjoy chewing may be able to wait a little longer for a cleaning. Turns out the physical act of gnawing is actually really great for dogs’ teeth and mouth: It scrapes bacteria and plaque off the teeth while massaging the gums. If your pup loves chewing on things like pig’s ears, rubber chew toys or meat stick chews, they’ve got a leg up on their oral health game!
How Often Do Dogs Need Teeth Cleanings?
The rule of thumb here is about every 12 months, but some dogs may need a dental cleaning every six months. This depends on the breed, diet and individual dental health, Dr. Kong says.
“Some breeds prone to dental issues may require more frequent cleanings,” Dr. Kong says.
Dr. Jackson adds that how much of a chewer the dog is; the size of the dog; and the amount of dental care being done at home can impact how often your dog needs their teeth cleaned.
How Do Vets Clean a Dog's Teeth?
According to Dr. Kong, professional cleaning is usually done under anesthesia, and vets go through the following process:
- Scaling, to remove plaque and tartar; more on this below
- Polishing, to smooth the tooth surfaces
- Thorough oral exam of the mouth, teeth and gums, to check for signs of inflammation and disease
Dental X-rays are sometimes involved in dog dental care, and each tooth is carefully examined to observe decay and other issues to see if extraction is necessary, Dr. Jackson says.
Scaling is perhaps the most important part of dental cleaning and helps prevent periodontal disease, Dr. Kong says. But what exactly is teeth scaling for dogs? Teeth scaling physically removes plaque, calculus and tartar from the teeth, especially below the gum line.
Teeth scaling is not that different from what humans experience when they visit the dentist, Dr. Jackson says.
Dog Teeth Cleaning: Before and After Photos
Dog Teeth Cleaning Risks
The biggest risk in dental cleaning for dogs doesn’t come from the procedure itself but from the medications involved in the sedation process, which can be worrisome for older or health-compromised dogs, Dr. Kong says.
“However, modern anesthetic techniques have made dental cleanings very safe,” says Dr. Kong.
It’s rare for an anesthesia emergency to occur during a routine dental cleaning, Dr. Jackson says, mostly because most vets will do a thorough exam of the dog beforehand to minimize risk. This examination includes pre-anesthetic bloodwork and treating any pre-existing conditions such as congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmias, chronic bronchitis, heartworm disease or anemia before putting a dog under anesthesia.
“If a dog has a chronic disease that can put them at risk, many veterinarians will opt not to put them under general anesthesia, and find other options to help decrease tooth decay or tartar buildup,” Dr. Jackson says.
Overall, though, “the risks of not cleaning, like infection and tooth loss, often outweigh the risks of cleaning,” says Dr. Kong.
How to Keep Your Dog's Teeth Clean at Home
When it comes to oral hygiene, annual or semiannual cleanings are imperative. But to keep your dog’s mouth in tip-top condition and avoid dental problems at home, Dr. Kong and Dr. Jackson recommend the following:
- Regular brushing: Brush your dog’s teeth once or twice a week with a dog-specific toothbrush and toothpaste, like Jasper’s finger brush and Virbac C.E.T. dog toothpaste, respectively. For pointers, watch our Chewtorial on how to brush your dog’s teeth.
- Dog dental toys: These toys help clean teeth because gnawing scrapes plaque off teeth. The toys also help massage gums to keep them healthy. Nylabone has a cute dental chew toy that comes in a dinosaur shape.
- Dog dental treats and chews: Most dental treats and chews have a unique texture that helps to remove plaque buildup, similar to what a chew toy would do. One popular brand is Greenies. For more options, scroll through the best dental chews for dogs according to pet parents like you.
- Water additives: Water additives, like Oxyfresh, act as a preventive against buildup. These additives shouldn’t replace regular brushing, however.
- A healthy diet: A healthy, species-appropriate diet can also significantly reduce plaque buildup. When a dog is fed a diet and products accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), they are more likely to have a healthy oral biome, which cuts plaque and tartar off before it starts.
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